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Profile: Jack Abramoff
Jack Abramoff was a participant or observer in the following events:
Two or three of the 9/11 hijackers are believed to go out on a gambling cruise ship that sails from Madeira Beach, Florida. According to a company official of SunCruz Casinos, who owns the ship, there are passengers on two of their cruises today who look like some of the men later identified as 9/11 hijackers, and whose names are either similar or the same as the hijackers’. In the days after 9/11, some of the cruise employees recognize a number of the hijackers as former customers. A casino manager on another SunCruz ship that sails from Port Canaveral, Florida, later believes that a former customer, caught on security video, resembles one of the hijackers. According to Michael Hlavsa, chairman of SunCruz Casinos, the hijackers “acted just like normal guests of ours and they were courteous.” Following 9/11, SunCruz turns over photographs and documents to FBI investigators. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/27/2001; Associated Press, 9/27/2001; Washington Post, 9/27/2001] At the time, SunCruz Casinos is owned by the politically connected Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his business associate Adam Kidan. Abramoff and Kidan will later plead guilty to fraud relating to their purchase of the company in 2000. [Associated Press, 1/4/2006]
President Bush terminates an investigation into controversial Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff by firing the US Attorney supervising the investigation. A US grand jury in Guam has been investigating a secret arrangement between Abramoff and Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill pending in Congress since February 2001 that would give the newly formed Guam Supreme Court authority over the Superior Court. The bill passed. Abramoff—a $750-an-hour lobbyist and former member of the Bush-Cheney transition team—was paid by a series of $9,000 checks, totaling $324,000, funneled through Laguna Beach, California, lawyer Howard Hills. The arrangement was designed to hide Abramoff’s role in working for the Guam court. On November 18, Acting US Attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Frederick A. Black issued a subpoena demanding that a Superior Court official turn over all records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments. (Black had already launched an investigation into the former governor of Guam, Carl Gutierrez, for diverting government funds for personal gain; Black apparently intended to tie the two investigations together.) However, today Black is abruptly demoted, with the White House issuing a statement announcing that it will name a replacement for him. Although Black is considered an “acting” US Attorney, he has held the post for over 10 years. Now he is demoted to an Assistant US Attorney and barred from continuing his investigations. Those investigations are now in limbo. In May 2003, Black will be replaced by Leonardo Rapadas without any Senate debate. Rapadas will be chosen for the job by Guam Republicans; lobbyist Fred Radewagen, who worked for the Gutierrez administration, will carry the recommendation to White House political chief Karl Rove in early 2003. (Radewagen has access to the top levels of the White House, including Rove.) Rapadas will quickly recuse himself from the Gutierrez investigation and the Abramoff grand jury will be dismissed. [Los Angeles Times, 8/8/2005; Nation, 2/2/2006] Later investigation will show that Gutierrez hired Abramoff in the spring of 2002 to help him force Black out of office. “I don’t care if they appoint [B]ozo the [C]lown, we need to get rid of Fred Black,” Abramoff wrote to colleagues in March 2002. Black began investigating Abramoff for the $324,000 contract Abramoff had received, and in return Abramoff asked for help from the Justice Department (DOJ). In turn, the DOJ forwarded the information to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. And, White House political director Ken Mehlman told White House official Leonard Rodriguez, a protege of Rove, to “reach out to make Jack [Abramoff] aware” of all Guam-related information, including people being considered to replace Black. “Abramoff claimed he had a top political guy at DOJ he could go to, to get rid of Black,” a source will tell reporter Ari Berman. In May 2002, Abramoff had a risk-assessment report of Guam and the neighboring Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) killed; the report, requested by Black, called for the federalizing of immigration laws on the islands, a rule change that would have slowed the influx of cheap labor to CNMI, as well as jeopardizing Abramoff’s $1.6 million contract with the local government. (In CNMI, workers are paid $3.05 an hour to make clothing branded “Made in the USA.”) Abramoff learned of the report from David Ayres, then the chief of staff for Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom Abramoff hosted at a Washington Redskins football game. Not only was the report quashed, its author, regional security specialist Robert Meissner, was demoted. Meissner later told people that he thought his boss at the time, Paul McNulty, the US Attorney for Eastern Virginia, “had everything to do with” suppressing the report. McNulty later became deputy attorney general. A colleague of Meissner’s will later say: “McNulty was kind of the fireman at Justice. He was the guy trying to run around and put a lid on things that could become political, especially with Abramoff.” Another element of the effort to rid Guam of Black was to paint him as a supporter of President Clinton, although he was appointed by the first President Bush, and Gutierrez himself was a Democrat. In November 2002, Black asked the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) for help in investigating Abramoff’s lobbying activities. McNulty was forwarded the request, as was Gonzales. The DOJ offers no help to Black. Days later, after Black convenes a grand jury to look into Abramoff’s activities, Black is removed as US Attorney. “Fred was removed because he asked to indict Abramoff,” one of Black’s colleagues at Justice will later tell Berman. “I don’t believe it was a coincidence.” In June 2006, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will determine that nothing untoward occurred in the Black firing. However, the report will be based largely on information provided by the administration, including apparently misleading testimony from Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Gonzales, who had by that time become attorney general. Rapadas was only chosen to replace Black after Black had launched his probe into Abramoff’s doings. David Sablan, who headed the Guam Republican Party at the time, will say in 2007, “I just wonder whether they wanted to prevent Fred Black from staying on.” The OIG report will indicate that Sampson discussed the US Attorney candidate for Guam and other posts with President Bush, a statement Bush will later disavow. [Nation, 2/2/2006; Nation, 4/16/2007]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Ken Mehlman, Karl C. Rove, Leonardo Rapadas, Public Integrity Section, Paul J. McNulty, Robert Meissner, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Howard Hills, Jack Abramoff, George W. Bush, Clinton administration, Carl Gutierrez, Guam Supreme Court, D. Kyle Sampson, David Ayres, David Sablan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Frederick A. Black, Fred Radewagen, Ari Berman
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff sends an email to White House aide Susan Ralston, a former Abramoff associate who now works in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) under Karl Rove. Abramoff wants Ralston to tell Rove to covertly use his position in the White House to prevent a Louisiana Indian tribe from acquiring land for a casino. (The land acquisition would threaten the interests of an Abramoff client, a different Indian tribe that already has gaming establishments in the area.) Abramoff asks if Rove can give “some quiet message from the WH [White House] that this is absurd.” Ralston agrees, and Abramoff sends her a thank-you reply. But instead of sending the reply to Ralston’s private email account administered by the Republican National Committee (RNC) at firstname.lastname@example.org, he sends it to her official White House email account. The next day, Abramoff’s colleague Kevin Ring alerts Abramoff to the error. Ring writes, “She said it is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff responds: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.” The email will be publicly revealed as part of a Congressional investigation into Abramoff’s criminal enterprises. In 2007, documents will connect this email exchange to thousands of other private emails sent to and from White House officials using the georgewbush.com, gwb43.com, rnchq.com, and other private email domains. Ralston is one of many White House officials to use these outside accounts to communicate with Abramoff and others. Federal law requires that all emails and other communications be preserved as part of the National Archives data storage, for future review. Using private email accounts such as those provided by the RNC, especially for official (and quasi-official) government business, is also a violation of the Presidential Records Law. In March 2007, the House Oversight Committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA), will demand that the RNC preserve all White House emails “because of their potential relevance to Congressional investigations.… The email exchanges reviewed by the committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.” Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists will say that the use of the RNC email accounts also “shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable.” Aftergood recalls the Iran-Contra investigation, where incriminating White House emails were recovered even after officials believed they had been deleted. “People may have learned that lesson,” Aftergood will muse. Since the Iran-Contra investigation, both the first Bush administration and Clinton administration have had issues with suppressing and hiding emails. Steven Hensen, a past president of the Society of American Archivists, will say that the current Bush email practice “clearly looks like an attempt to conceal official business.” Mother Jones reporter Daniel Schulman will agree, writing that “it’s clear that others are taking pains to use alternate email accounts simply to keep their communications from becoming public record.” [Mother Jones, 3/30/2007; Los Angeles Times, 4/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Jack Abramoff, White House Office of Political Affairs, Bush administration (43), Henry A. Waxman, Steven Hensen, Susan Ralston, Daniel Schulman, Karl C. Rove, Kevin Ring, Steven Aftergood, Republican National Committee, National Archives and Records Administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Farid Ghadry. [Source: Committee on the Present Danger]Farid Ghadry, the president of the Washington-based Reform Party of Syria (see October 2001), “wants to be the [Ahmed] Chalabi of Syria,” warns Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Chalabi played a key role in the US’s attempt to bring about regime change in Iraq, and was the neoconservatives’ choice to lead Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see 2002-2003). Perthes says, “Chalabi is a role model for Ghadry.” [ABC News, 1/12/2006] Ghadry, like Chalabi, is a rich Arab exile with strong connections to Washington neoconservatives who wants to overthrow the Ba’athist dictator of his native country—in this case, Bashir Assad. Ghadry says that even though there doesn’t seem to be a strong impetus to invade Syria any time soon in Washington, Syria needs to be targeted, and soon. In February 2005, he said, “Maybe we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. But there’s reason enough to help. It’s important to free Syria because Syria could be on the avant-garde of helping the US win the war on terror.” Ghadry has taken pains to distance himself from the inevitable comparisons with his Iraqi counterpart, even sending one mass e-mail titled “I am not Ahmed Chalabi.” But like Chalabi, he has cultivated friends and colleagues within the American political and business communities; [Slate, 2/7/2005] in the US, where he is known as “Frank” Ghadry, he once presented himself as Lebanese instead of Syrian, and has owned a number of businesses, including a small defense contracting firm and a failed Washington coffee-shop chain called Hannibal’s. [Washington Business Journal, 10/4/1996; Business Forward, 3/2000] He is charming, comfortable with Westerners, and has long supported the idea of peaceful co-existence with Israel. [Slate, 2/7/2005] For instance, in May 2007, Ghadry, a member of the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will write, “As a Syrian and a Muslim, I have always had this affinity for the State of Israel. As a businessman and an advocate of the free economic system of governance, Israel to me represents an astounding economic success in the midst of so many Arab failures.… While many Arabs view Israel as a sore implant, I view it as a blessing.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007; Farid Ghadry, 5/5/2007]
Ties to US Neoconservatives - Upon creating the Reform Party of Syria, Ghadry told reporters that Chalabi provided him with a template for his own plans for Syria: “Ahmed paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria.” And in 2005, Ghadry discussed his agenda with Chalabi, a discussion which took place in the living room of powerful US neoconservative and Chalabi sponsor Richard Perle, who, like Ghadry, supports enforced regime change in Syria. [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005] Later, Ghadry joined the Committee on the Present Danger, a group of mostly right wing politicians and think-tank fellows, and which boasts as members such prominent neoconservatives as Newt Gingrich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey. [Slate, 2/7/2005] He is particularly close to Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the vice president, who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs [Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006] and heads of the State Department’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, tasked with planning strategies to “democratize” the two nations. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] Cheney ensured that Ghadry’s group received some of the hundreds of millions of dollars given to the “Middle East Partnership Initiative,” which contributes to opposition groups throughout the region, [Iran Solidarity, 11/5/2006] and has coordinated at least one meeting, in February 2006, between Ghadry and senior Bush administration officials, including officials from Vice President Cheney’s office, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon. [Washington Post, 3/26/2005] Ghadry describes notorious neoconservative political operator Michael Ledeen as “my friend.” [National Review, 3/2/2005] He writes frequent screeds warning of dire consequences to the world if Assad remains in power, which often get picked up in right-wing media outlets such as Front Page and the Washington Times. And, like Chalabi, Ghadry says that once the US moves against Syria, it will be a virtual cakewalk: though Ghadry hasn’t lived in Syria since the 1960s, he says he has intimate knowledge of the Syrian society and culture, and he knows the Syrian people will welcome their US liberators. Syria has, he says, “good dissidents, who understand the United States, can work with the United States, and can help bring about major change.” [Slate, 2/7/2005] Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway wasn’t so sure, writing in December 2005, “Chalabi… is often accused of seducing the administration with false intelligence into invading Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush administration desperately wanted to be seduced. If you are feeling charitable, you can say that Chalabi, having lived in exile for so many years, may just have been out of touch with the real situation in Iraq. But one suspects that Farid Ghadry may be no better informed about his homeland than was Chalabi.” [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005]
Refusal to Work With Other Dissidents - A Syrian news site observes in February 2006 that Ghadry’s plans for Syria are made more difficult by his refusal to work with other dissident groups because, according to one dissident leader, Husam Ad-Dairi, Ghadry “only wanted to be a leader.” Another dissident Syrian, Riad At-Turk, calls Ghadry’s idea of opposition “nonsense.” Ad-Dairi says, “Ghadry did not split off from the [Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization of dissident groups] because we are Ba’athists or Islamists. He split off because he was not willing to be part of the group; he only wanted to be a leader. He wanted to start a Syrian government in exile with 19 people in Washington DC. Who does that represent? So we opposed it.” Ghadry will later attack Ad-Dairi, At-Turk, and other dissidents, widely considered some of the most liberal in the disparate dissident movements, “Stalinists” and accuse them of supporting al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. [Syrian Comment, 1/30/2006; Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006]
Ties to Abramoff? - Ghadry’s hopes to lead Syria may be tainted by his apparent ties to GOP lobbyist and convicted criminal Jack Abramoff. In January 2006, the Reform Party of Syria’s headquarters were located very near the offices of Abramoff’s lobbying firm, Middle Gate Ventures, which was apparently partnered with the Reform Party. Middle East expert Joshua Landis called the group “a front organization for Israeli interests in the Levant… supported by an impressive constellation of neoconservative stars. Regime change, effected by a US invasion and occupation of Syria and Lebanon, is the one and only item at the top of this gang’s agenda, and it comes as no surprise that Abramoff’s ill-gotten gains went to funding it.” [Syrian Comment, 1/11/2006]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Joshua Landis, Michael Ledeen, Syrian National Council, Newt Gingrich, Reform Party of Syria, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Riad At-Turk, James Woolsey, Farid Ghadry, Institute for International and Security Affairs, Ahmed Chalabi, Bashir Assad, Jack Abramoff, Committee on the Present Danger, Volker Perthes, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, Middle Gate Ventures, HDS Greenway, Husam Ad-Dairi
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress profiles Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative Washington lobbying organization that is planning to coordinate anti-tax “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009 and April 15, 2009) with a summer push against the White House’s health care reform proposals. AFP is largely funded by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in the US; AFP has long advocated positions favorable to the energy and health care industries. AFP also uses the technique of “astroturfing,” the creation of ostensibly citizen-driven “grassroots” advocacy groups that are actually funded and driven by corporate and lobbying interests. AFP’s most recent creation is a “front group” called “Patients United Now” (PUN), a group explicitly designed to thwart health care reform. PUN’s Web site declares, “We are people just like you,” and actively solicits participation and donations from ordinary Americans without revealing its corporate roots. AFP employs close to 70 Republican operatives and former oil industry officials.
Other 'Astroturf' Campaigns - Think Progress notes that other AFP “Astroturf” groups have organized events such as the “Hot Air Tour” attacking environmental regulation, the “Free Our Energy” movement to promote domestic oil drilling, the “Save My Ballot Tour” which sent conservative activist “Joe the Plumber” (see October 10, 2008) around the country attacking the Employee Free Choice Act, the “No Climate Tax” group aimed at defeating the Clean Energy Economy legislation, and the “No Stimulus” organization, which opposes the Obama administration’s economic policies.
Headed by Former Abramoff Colleague - AFP’s president is Tim Phillips, a veteran conservative lobbyist and “astroturfer.” In 1997, Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, joined Christian conservative activists in a new lobbying firm, Century Strategies. The firm promised to mount “grassroots lobbying drives” and explained its strategy as “it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard—and by whom.” Century Strategies was given a boost by Texas GOP political operative Karl Rove, and began its career representing the Texas oil giant Enron. The firm was paid $380,000 to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation on the federal and state level, an effort which helped lead, says Think Progress, “to the energy crisis and economic meltdown of 2001.” As part of their efforts, Phillips and his partner, former Christian Coalition official Ralph Reed, used their congressional connections and “placed” purported “news” articles in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Phillips managed the firm’s direct mail subsidiary, Millennium Marketing, which was hired by then-GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pressure members of Congress to oppose federal wage and worker safety legislation. Phillips and Reed also worked with Abramoff in the lobbyists’ efforts to fraudulently charge Native American tribes millions of dollars in lobbying fees over their efforts to build casinos on tribal lands. And they helped Abramoff launder gambling money. Phillips and Reed are responsible for the ads that helped Republicans win election victories by comparing Democratic candidates to Osama bin Laden, and helped George W. Bush (R-TX) defeat Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000 by accusing McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child. They were unsuccessful in preventing the 2000 election of Republican Eric Cantor (R-VA) to the House by attacking his Jewish heritage. [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Headed by Oil Billionaire, Republican Party Funder - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will later note that AFP’s director is Art Pope, a multi-millionaire who has given so much money to the North Carolina Republican Party that it named its headquarters after him. The national chairman of AFP is David Koch, who with his brother runs Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US and a longtime supporter of right-wing causes. Koch is the 19th richest man in the world. [MSNBC, 8/6/2009]
Entity Tags: Tim Phillips, Think Progress (.org), Ralph Reed, Patients United Now, Millennium Marketing, Century Strategies, David Koch, Art Pope, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, Jack Abramoff
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
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